New Series Launch! Eyes on ICE: Documenting Immigration Abuses

This is Part One of the WITNESS Media Lab’s new series, “Eyes On ICE: Documenting Immigration Abuses.” The series examines the role of video in exposing immigration abuses, holding Immigration and Customs officials accountable, and advocating for communities. Follow along each month as we create & share resources, case studies, interviews with activists and organizers, videos and more in hopes of strengthening communities in resistance. #nobannowall #nodeportations #heretostay 

By Palika Makam

In just the first 6 months of this new administration, arrests by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) increased by 40%, and arrests of individuals with no criminal convictions doubled, as ICE desperately tries to substantiate false narratives of immigrants as “threats” to national safety. ICE has been racially profiling people on the street, picking up immigrants at routine court check ins, using harmful surveillance tactics, and detaining people en masse – as they target “sanctuary cities” that don’t comply with detainment requests. And while deportation rates have remained stagnant, suggesting that people are being left to suffer in detention facilities as their cases filter through federal deportation proceedings, reports of abuse and inhumane treatment of detainees persist, and deaths in detention have spiked.

From a 10-year old girl with cerebral palsy who was detained at a checkpoint on her way to undergo emergency surgery, to the six men detained after leaving a church homeless shelter in Virginia, to immigrants not reporting sexual abuse or domestic violence in fear of deportation, this expanded deportation machine is chipping away at the safety, security, and rights of immigrants, and threatening the fabric of all our communities.

The Role of Video 

As immigrant communities across the country adapt rapid response and defense strategies to this harrowing immigration climate, activists and organizers tell us that the question of filming comes up at almost every training or workshop. With the help of video documentation, communities around the country can expose the illegal and manipulative ways that ICE operates, and channel that knowledge to better strategize how to fight back. WITNESS is working with activists, organizers, and lawyers to create resources like our Filming ICE tip sheet and Eyes on ICE webinar series to inform community members of their right to film, and how to do so safely, ethically and effectively.  

“The reality is that video is not necessarily going to stop every person’s deportation,” Michelle Parris, Staff Attorney and Training and Resources Director at Immigrant Defense Project, said in an interview about the potential of video in supporting resistance work.

“But it’s still incredibly important to document these types of abuses because they’re really a starting point for communities to talk about the horrible things that are happening to them and to expose those things and organize around them. So it’s not necessarily going to help one individual, but it may help a community come together and create a plan of action for fighting ICE and fighting what’s happening in their communities,” said Parris.

Video can alert community members of ICE’s whereabouts, and has the potential to help verify reports of raids in a time when fake news and false reports do nothing than create more fear and anxiety among already vulnerable communities. Groups like Movimiento Cosecha have been effectively using Facebook livestreaming to amplify direct actions and bring people into the movement. Video can capture racist attacks on immigrants (and those profiled as immigrants) by an emboldened xenophobic public, as well as preserve stories from those whose truths are often left in the margins.

Video, both eyewitness and surveillance, can also serve as valuable evidence, exposing how ICE agents violate constitutional rights and/or their own policies. The eyewitness video below shows plain clothes ICE officers  arresting a man without a warrant or explanation, after illegally entering a home (not shown in the video).


Video can also be used as a tool for advocacy, as we saw with this heartbreaking video taken by a 12-year old girl as her father was arrested by ICE in front of her eyes. The video, which went viral, became an emblem of the trauma caused by these immigration policies, and helped galvanize support for her father’s case –  his deportation has since been put on hold.

But as we’ve heard from many activists and organizers, public facing campaigns have not been as effective as they were under the last administration, and in some cases have caused ICE to retaliate against detainees. As activists are forced to rethink advocacy strategies to account for safety, it’s important that we also keep safety and security in mind when documenting or sharing videos, and protect people’s identities while still exposing injustice.

Safety and Security Concerns

We know that the Department of Homeland Security(DHS) is collecting social media accounts from all immigrants, making undocumented folks who interact with them vulnerable. DHS also makes arrests based on information shared from secret and problematic gang databases that someone can be added to just for engaging with “gang members” on social media, having tattoos, or hanging out in certain areas.

While video can be a powerful tool for justice, it’s not always safe to share videos of ICE and people being detained on social media because this could potentially put families at further risk, or expose other undocumented people in the frame – making them vulnerable to retaliation.

New Series: Eyes on ICE

In response to these inquires about filming and concerns about safety, we’re launching the series Eyes on ICE: Documenting Immigration Abuses, a deep dive into how video can be used as a tool for justice, accountability, and advocacy in immigration work. Over the next 6 months, this series will focus on different uses of video – from evidence to storytelling, keeping in mind safety and digital security. We’ll be working with activists and organizations around the country, including immigrant communities who have previously been targets of DHS surveillance, and/or live in border states and port cities where ICE and border patrol have regularly wreaked havoc.

These conversations will help us to understand what challenges and barriers there are to safely and effectively filming ICE, how to protect ourselves against surveillance, and help us to provide thorough guidance for how video can be used to help fight this deportation machine. We’ll be creating and pushing out resources, case studies, interviews with activists, organizers and lawyers, videos, and more in hopes of strengthening communities in resistance.

As we embark on this journey, we’d love to hear from you about what you’d like to know or learn more about. Feel free to reach out to pali [@] witness [dot] org and sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date as we roll out the series.

For more on how to film ICE safely, ethically and effectively, check out our existing resources (available in multiple languages):

Feature Photo/illustration: United We Dream 



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